Sunday’s event is for beloved hockey coach and father of four, “Big Joe” Mertes
As a local coach and handyman, Joe Mertes is used to giving his time and talents. On Sunday, it’s the community’s turn to give back to Joe.
The Forest Lake native and father of four last month was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He has been given six to 12 months to live.
Sunday’s benefit at Stella’s on 97 will defray his medical expenses and give his many friends and local family members a chance to cheer him on together.
Mertes is a member of Forest Lake High School’s Class of 1985. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army, stationed in Korea, and to own a construction business in Forest Lake.
He and his former wife, Robin, raised three children: Anthonie, 25, Brytanie, 23, and Zachari, 20. Mertes also has a 10-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Hockey has always been a main passion for Mertes. He played the sport in high school and was a longtime coach with the Forest Lake Hockey Association. His former players affectionately know his as “Big Joe.”
He is a member of Eagle Brook Church in Lino Lakes. Many locals also know Mertes through his mother, Sharon LeGare, brother, Jack, and sister, Jenna Wald, who all live in the area.
Mertes went in for a check-up before Christmas due to abdominal pain. Tests returned negative but the ulcer-like symptoms persisted. Another examination led to a false suspicion of a hernia.
Finally, Mertes on Aug. 8 learned that his discomfort stemmed from cancer. Five days later, an oncologist informed him that he has inoperable pancreatic cancer, with more than 50 lesions throughout his body.
The 46-year-old recently completed his second round of chemotherapy.
“Seems the chemo is the only option to slow down and possibly shrink the cancer,” Mertes wrote on his CaringBridge journal. “With the love and support from my family and friends I hope to kick its ass. Much love.”
Benefit organizers have gone all-out. The entire Stella’s facility, at 7050 Scandia Trail N., will be dedicated to the event, which will run from 11 a.m. all the way until closing.
Face painting and the first of two silent auctions begin at 11 a.m. A disc jockey will entertain from noon to 4 p.m.
A purse party featuring the brand “31” will start at 1 p.m., along with free chair massages courtesy of HealthSource of Hugo.
The Vikings game against the Chicago Bears, which starts at noon, will be projected on a large screen.
Guest chef Michael Larson of Eat Shop in Plymouth, a Forest Lake High School alumnus, will fire up a pig roast.
A Dixieland jazz band will perform starting at 5 p.m.
Drawings for generous prizes, including many related to sports, will occur throughout the benefit.
Donations will be accepted at the benefit. Donors can also contribute online at www.caringbridge.org/visit/joemertes/mystory.
Organizers hope a big turnout will boost Mertes’ spirits.
“We just want to make sure that he walks in there and knows he’s loved, more than anything, more than the donations,” Robin Mertes said.
“He’s just a very, very caring man that will help anybody and has helped thousands of people. … He’s helped people through their struggles, built things for people for nothing. He’s just an amazing man, and the kids all love him. He’s a very, very nice, generous, loving man that a lot of people care about.”
Big Joe Hockey Tournament
The hockey community will help Joe Mertes’ cause by holding the Big Joe Ice Hockey Tournament Saturday at the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association Sports Center. Youth three-on-three games start at 2 p.m. Adult five-on-five games start at 7 p.m. Visit www.flhockey.org for details.